Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Occupation (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

I like to see plays set in the future.  Maybe because that particular surge of imagination appeals to my hopes and fears on some level.  Occupation certain appeals to both.  And that fact helps explain why it touched me so very very much.

The time is "almost now" following a series of terrible events, beginning with some kind of simultaneous terror attack on several American cities.  Sadly the military's reaction was a coup, setting in place a junta, then in effect martial law complete with people being "taken" at the word of informers.

We meet five women.  Tattoo Mother (Jenny Ashe) who longs to see her daughter once more, but that daughter vanished into an underground resistance long ago.  Patriot Mother (Brynn Alexander), a young widow and fervent believer in the new regime.  Garden Mother (Theodora Marcelline) whose efforts have been dubbed illegal--why turns out to be quite a tale.  Then we have Delivery Daughter (Monica Baker) a seemingly tough-as-nails survivor whose status becomes the central point of the story.  Finally Tap Dance Daughter (Olivia Powell) trying with odd awkwardness to retain a connection to that strange, magical world of Before.

Unlike, for example, The Hunger Games, the focus here remains firmly fixed on individuals rather than great movements of history.  The title refers to living under Occupation, until the fist and the censor.  In such a world, how do we survive?  By lashing out?  By withdrawing into dreams?  By convincing oneself what we are doing must be done for some ideal?  All of these or none of them or some combination?

Wonderful stuff from which to fashion a play.  An anti-Illiad in some ways, all about the women in war rather than the war itself or at least the men fighting it.  Stylistically, also very much theatre--the poetry spoken as if that were natural speech, the repetitions used like a chorus, the startling metaphors made concrete--tap shows, tattoos, even flowers or bricks or the beating of a drum.

At first I felt disoriented, but that faded as the mysteries began taking shape.  What had happened to the world?  More, who were these women and what had they to do with one another (it soon seemed obvious they would turn out connected to one another somehow).  Dystopias often tell of the grinding away of humanity and soul, a la 1984.  Then there are the tales of defiance, of victory over the oppressive state in one way or another, such as V is for Victory or maybe Anthem. Occupation focuses on a different victory, at least the attempt--holding on to oneself, to nurturing even the mildest of hopes, not unlike Fahrenheit 451.  That this very talented cast brought to life for an hour and a half (almost), and I left the theatre very moved.

Occupation has one more performance scheduled, for Sunday June 26 at 5:30pm at the Main Space of the Complex 6470 Santa Monica Blvd.

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